Science needs a new model for testing how cells react, both to things that can cure us and things that can kill us. With her half-million-dollar grant, assistant professor Kristen Comfort ’02 is developing a human model with dynamic potential.
Kristen Comfort wanted to build a city for tiny bits of life, a comfortable habitat where free-ranging cells could grow as naturally as they do tucked inside our bodies.
It was serious science — with significant promise for environmental research and a host of human health studies — but to the assistant professor in chemical and materials engineering, it felt like play: squirting a liquid gel into one-inch diameter cylinders, watching the gel cure like Jell-O in the fridge, then adding the cells to weave their way into the porous material.
And it worked. The lung and immune cells she put in the wiggly culture moved in and took up housekeeping. Then she turned on a pump to move liquid through the system to the pulsing rhythms of a beating heart.
Disaster. Her formerly tidy cylinders were ragged ruins, the cell’s once happy home ready for a tiny wrecking ball. It looked like B-roll on a disaster news broadcast.
“I don’t consider it lost time,” she said after this and other efforts to create cell high-rises failed. Every failure is one step closer to success. This is how the science game is played.
Still, there’s a great deal at stake. The National Science Foundation has awarded her more than a half-million dollars over the next five years to create a new laboratory test system, one that better predicts how our bodies and our cells react to potentially toxic compounds or potentially helpful ones. NSF called it work with potentially “deep scientific impact” across many disciplines. If the system is successful, Comfort predicts, it could reduce the need for animal studies and provide a more accurate appraisal of our body’s reaction to new substances than the usual laboratory approach. It could even help treat cancer.
Her office on the fifth floor of Kettering Labs is decorated with artwork from her three daughters, Holly, 9; Megan, 8; and Caitlin, 7. Rainbow drawings. Sweet notes with childish printing, “I love you Momme.” Paper hearts. Handprint flowers. Paper plate picture frames. And dead center between two long to-do lists on her office white board, a heart scrawled in green, now a few months old. It said, “I love you so much Mommy.” (“I can’t find it in my heart to erase it,” Comfort said.)
Comfort, director of the graduate bioengineering program, came to her passion for science naturally. As an 8- or 9-year-old she corralled the family’s Barbies — with three girls in the house, she had an army of them — pulled off an arm here, a leg there, and created a Barbie hospital. When she was 8, she asked for a microscope for her birthday and subjected everything she could think of to its low-power scrutiny. Before that, the whole family overslept one morning because 7-year-old Kristen had taken apart her mother’s alarm clock to see how it worked, then failed to put it back together again. Somewhere along the way, her native curiosity joined forces with imagination, and the problem-solving demands of science drew her in. That led Kristen Krupa, as she was then known, to the University of Dayton, where she earned a chemical engineering degree in 2002, which eventually led to her present project: Think of it as human-in-a-box.
Her goal is to improve the way laboratories test cells. Typically, studying the biological impact of any chemical or drug involves squirting it onto a flat dish carpeted with identical, growing cells, then watching what happens. Do the cells emit chemical help signals? Do they change shape, alter structurally, stop multiplying, multiply faster? Do they use less oxygen or require fewer nutrients? Do communications between cells break down? Do they die? Or does everything tick along smoothly?
Theoretically, the way that pancake of cells responds predicts the way our bodies will respond to the same chemical. It seems a reasonable supposition. And if we were cell pancakes, it would be. But too often, laboratory studies aren’t borne out when scientists take the research to the next level — usually studies in rodents. That’s certainly been the case for silver nanoparticles, which is what Comfort plans to test in the experimental system she’s creating. In cell pancakes, silver nanoparticles are bad actors. Cells exposed to these tiny creations of 1 to 100 nanometers — 600 times smaller than the width of a human hair — look stressed, act weird and die. But expose mice to these same tiny bits of silver and — nothing, or very little. The mice carry on their little mouse lives with their usual brio. Clearly, something isn’t translating between culture dish and four-footed human stand-in.
Comfort looked at the cell cultures, and the problem seemed obvious: “It’s just sitting there,” she said. “Nothing is moving. And you’re trying to correlate the results from a cell culture to the three-dimensional, dynamic, multicellular system of a living thing? No wonder it falls apart. Especially when you’re talking about nanoparticles. Because they’re so small, any little influence changes how they interact with cells.” Yet it’s not practical to go straight to testing in mice. Such a solution would be both costly and involve an awful lot of mice.
Comfort hopes to create a bridge, a span to carry her from the oversimplified world of cells in a dish to the complexity of a mouse
by adding in the cellular interactions that make our human bodies run.
Comfort grew interested in the problems of cell culture during her post-doctoral research year at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base while working in the laboratory of another UD alumna, Laura K. Braydich-Stolle ’01, a biologist in the Molecular Bioeffects Branch at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Comfort and her husband, Donald, had arrived in the Dayton area in 2008. Donald was further along in his professional life than Kristen, having completed both his doctorate and post-graduate research, and was beginning at UD in a tenure-track position. When her husband’s job offer came through, Kristen had a freshly minted doctorate from North Carolina State University. When she moved to Dayton, she took what was on offer: part-time teaching at the University of Dayton. She had zero teaching experience and zero teacher training. “They threw me into thermodynamics — which is not the easiest,” she said. “I loved it, loved it, loved it!”
She had never intended to teach, always dreaming of working in industry, but at UD she realized her extrovert tendencies — not exactly common among engineers, she said — were a perfect fit. “My husband says I can talk to a blank wall,” she said. “Teaching is a way I get my words out. I love that interaction. I feed off that energy.”
After completing her post-doc with Braydich-Stolle in 2012, Comfort was hired at UD. This year, she’s preparing for tenure review.
Braydich-Stolle said Wright-Patterson had hoped to keep Comfort. Comfort’s research colleague called her “very high energy, and extremely focused … a very meticulous scientist.” But Braydich-Stolle saw her deep love for teaching, and that’s how Wright-Patterson lost out to UD. Comfort wanted to get her words out.
She and Braydich-Stolle continue to collaborate. On the NSF grant project, they create cell cultures that live, not as cell pancakes, but in three dimensions. To add to the authenticity of their experimental system, they will employ several cell types in a single test, including immune cells known as macrophages.
Picture a six-cup muffin tin made of clear plastic, but with slots between each cup so that batter can flow between them, and you have a fairly good idea what this pilot system looks like. Two of the cups are needed to cycle liquid in and out of the system. The other four could each become home to particular cell types. For instance, to test silver nanoparticles, chamber No. 1 will hold three-dimensional lung cell cultures, chamber No. 2 will feature liver cells growing on 3-D structures, and chamber No. 3 will be home to 3-D skin cell cities. (The fourth chamber won’t be used.) The pulsatile pump will push liquid through the system. Finally, macrophages will travel in the liquid, cycling through each cell chamber. Then the nanoparticles will cycle through.
The tissue arrangement isn’t a whim. The nanoparticles will travel to lung, liver, then skin — the same order human tissues experience inhaled nanoparticles. Adding macrophages to the mix may challenge all assumptions: Do they gobble up invading particles or ignore them completely?
Although “nanoparticles” sound exotic, they’ve become increasingly common in consumer products during the last 10 years as the tools to image them — things like high-powered microscopes — developed. As we got better at seeing them, we began to understand their properties, such as strength, durability and low weight, and engineer them more precisely to meet our needs. Thus, they’ve made their way into hundreds of applications, including cell phone cases, toothbrush bristles and even the fur of some stuffed animals, according to a study by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Between 2006 and 2014 — the most recent data available — the number of products with nanomaterials increased 521 percent to encompass 1,317 items. About a quarter of those use silver nanoparticles. “It’s used for coatings, cosmetics, anything designed to kill bacteria,” Comfort said. “It’s something we’re in contact with on a daily basis.”
But what happens when we inhale these infinitesimal particles isn’t certain. They’re so small, there’s hardly anything they can’t get into. A silver nanoparticle sized 10 nanometers or smaller is half the size of most virus particles, and it can pass into a cell
like a needle through fabric, like a ghost through a wall. It doesn’t even need a door.
Yet with their small size comes giant opportunities. Gold nanoparticles, for instance, could serve as drug delivery mechanisms. In traditional cell cultures, Comfort said, they work like a charm. “But put them in an animal model and the particles disappear. The macrophages eat them.” With her laboratory system, Comfort said, she could see what percentage of gold nanoparticles the macrophages leave behind. That would help determine how many particles would be required to still sneak some past the macrophages and to the targeted tissue.
Comfort is also working with a group of UD chemistry researchers on the creation and testing of compounds to treat non-small-cell lung cancer, a very aggressive, treatment-resistant disease. They are using specially engineered inorganic chemistry compounds. Once in the airways, these compounds are engineered to behave like smart bombs, adhering to lung cancer cells. Finally, laser light tuned to a specific wavelength triggers the kill signal. Comfort said her system will help determine the ideal compound dose to evade destruction by the immune system.
It’s one of the many ways Comfort’s system can be adapted to meet multiple research needs.
For instance, the system isn’t limited to nanomaterials. In a study led by Braydich-Stolle, they will use their cupcake pan-like assembly to follow the biological path of the toxic heavy metals. Metal ions leach from airplane parts, elevating metal exposures in airmen to much higher levels than experienced in the general population. To test for metal toxicity, Stolle will use liver, kidney, spleen and immune cells — the critical
pathway for metal toxicity.
“There are innumerable ways we can use this system,” Comfort said. “That’s the thing I love about this project.” And, there’s potential to expand to even more types of cells. “We could focus on an airway model. We have a detox model. We could focus on tumor models. Any cell type you want to put together, you can create a focused, individualized system,” Comfort said.
Still, several challenges remain. While the problem of the cell gelatin high-rises has, for the moment, been solved with off-the-shelf materials, Comfort would rather create her own. Describing silver nanoparticle behavior in the new system will take up much of the final few years of the project. Ultimately, she hopes to compare her results with results in mice exposed to silver nanoparticles. This will tell her just how close her human-in-a-box comes to emulating life.
From watching her own children, Comfort knows that an interest in science has to start early. Her oldest daughter, Holly, nicknamed “the lawyer” for her ability to argue, wants to be a marine biologist and an artist. Megan, the middle child, is “the engineer,” undoing baby locks when she was a toddler, and taking apart an expensive toy using her plastic Black & Decker tools. “I was angry and proud at the same time,” Comfort said. Even youngest sister Caitlin, officially “the troublemaker,” has a knack for experimentation. She discovered that if she pushed the toilet seat up, she could get daddy, the only male in the house, in trouble. How fun is that?
If a child isn’t turned on to science by second grade, research shows, it’s too late, Comfort said. So she makes outreach to children a goal, visiting her children’s day care in summer and their schools in the school year with quick, fun experiments, such as demonstrating the engineering perfection of an egg by standing on a grid of them, or piling up books atop an eggshell.
She’s also helping train today the next generation of researchers. Comfort is active in UD’s Minority Leaders Program that pairs minority students with research mentors. And the NSF grant is helping fund positions for an additional graduate student and two undergraduate students in her lab.
Katie Burns, who is completing her master’s degree in bioengineering in Comfort’s lab, feels like she lucked out when she began working with Comfort. “To see the things she’s doing, and being successful, and at the same time having a family, it’s just pretty great to have somebody like that as my mentor,” Burns said. “I found a mentor who embodies so much of what I hope to be in the future.”
In budding researchers and precocious children, Comfort also sees the future. Each July, Comfort is part of the annual University of Dayton Women in Engineering camp. Young women from at least 20 states attend the program, living in dorms for the week while they complete experiments and learn from professional engineers. It’s one of her favorite weeks in the summer.
“You see these 16-year-olds who are, ‘I’m gonna go and I’m gonna cure cancer,’” she said.
And when they’re ready, Comfort plans to have the cell model ready for them to test their cures.
Jenni Laidman is a freelance writer specializing in science and medicine.No Comments
It’s a big planet, full of cultures and perspectives that can enrich our daily experiences. But how do you dive in and make the most of intercultural opportunities? Sangita Gosalia, the director of campus engagement in UD’s Center for International Programs, encourages students, faculty and staff to consider ways to develop skills that broaden cultural awareness and help them thrive in cross-cultural environments. Below, she shares some tips.
Imagine an alternative perspective
“Naturally, we tend to experience the world through our own lens or sense of reality. By challenging ourselves we view other possibilities and deepen our understanding of the world,” Gosalia said.
Grab a journal
Self-reflection looks different for everyone, whether it’s writing it down or sharing in a group discussion. “Start with yourself and evaluate your own personal values, strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself how your upbringing and experiences in life have informed that and why?” Gosalia said.
An experience outside of your comfort zone will be significantly more productive and meaningful if you take time to familiarize yourself. “Take the initiative to read foreign media and watch documentaries. Educate yourself around international issues, global issues and trends,” Gosalia said.
Balance structure and spontaneity
Attend a neighborhood street festival, or visit a cultural center in your city. At UD, there are a number of initiatives that provide great opportunity to ask complex questions. “The structure removes the intimidation and makes [interactions] more comfortable and authentic. It puts more intentionality into the process of relationship building,” Gosalia said.
What’s holding you back?
Fully immersing yourself in another culture can be overwhelming, and that’s okay. Ask yourself what you are afraid of and identify the barriers. Maybe it’s cultural perceptions or maybe it’s unease surrounding travel. “It’s really about starting with the self. We build critical-thinking skills by examining the self in relation to others,” Gosalia said. Once you know where your hesitation is coming from, you’re more likely to be willing to take the risk. Remember: It’s OK to be uncomfortable. Embrace it!
What’s it like to live in a Marianist student community?
We asked that question of Andrew Kramer, who, with six other seniors, lives at 340 Stonemill, home to one of nine Marianist student communities at UD.
We heard about the houses as sophomores, and we had had contact with some Marianist brothers. It didn’t seem too hard — share some meals and prayers. Last year we lived at 57 Wood-land, and we stayed together for this year.
Many of us met at Callings, a Campus Ministry summer program for incoming first-years. I came to UD for the usual reason — it felt special. Callings is part of that. Lots of schools have good academics and dining halls, but here there is something more. Callings encouraged asking questions: “Who do I want to be?” “How can I make a difference?” “How can I connect my studies with my faith and values?”
We are pursuing a variety of majors: accounting and entrepreneurship (Michael Keller), entrepreneurship and international business (Collin Seventy), exercise physiology (Mark Bugada and me), international studies (Nicholas Dalton and Bradley Petrella, who’s also a Spanish major) and mechanical engineering (Steve Miller).
And our interests and activities are varied: Flyer News sports editor, Pershing Rifles, president of the New Abolition Movement, president of the Food Recovery Network, EMT squad, captain of men’s Ultimate Frisbee, and Dayton Civic Scholars. And, as a community, we do service and host events.
A mission statement is asked of each of the Marianist student communities. Ours is, “The community of 340 Stonemill is committed to following Mary’s example by identifying and responding to opportunities to serve in communities across Dayton with glad hearts.”
With our individual studies and activities, it takes some effort to do things as a community. But we usually gather to pray in the evening on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. We have a meal together on Tuesday night, and, breakfast together on Thursday.
On Thursday night we also get together. We don’t pray. We don’t eat. We just hang out.No Comments
In a recent conversation with leaders of the West Dayton community at a Trotwood church, the talk turned to the future of the former Montgomery County fairgrounds.
“We hope whatever happens there helps knit together our community,” one leader told me.
That gave me pause. While the Great Miami River physically divides our community, the fabric of Dayton is made up of a rich tapestry of people from diverse cultures, races, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds and nationalities. As an anchor institution with a civic focus and a religious mission, we strive to be inclusive and welcoming.
The University of Dayton and Premier Health, new owners of the 38-acre “fairgrounds” parcel, are starting with a clean slate as we think about the renaissance of this land on the edge of downtown and adjacent to both of our campuses. Why can’t we use this once-in-a-lifetime redevelopment opportunity to build more than new buildings?
Let’s use it to build community. Let’s use it to serve the needs of our two institutions — and the common good.
Many on campus and in the community feel the same way. When I walked into the Coliseum at the former Montgomery County fairgrounds for a community forum in November, the feeling of excitement and possibility was palpable. The place surged with energy.
For more than an hour, small groups of people from cross-sections of the Dayton community brainstormed ideas, scribbled them on oversized sheets of paper, prioritized them — and creatively envisioned what the future could hold. Similar scenes played out on campus and within the health system as hundreds of ideas have emerged from this collective show of imagination.
The participants — from all walks of life in our community — envisioned a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development on the doorstep of downtown Dayton. A place that could attract new businesses and restaurants. A place that connects to the Great Miami River and a resurgence of development in downtown Dayton. A place that welcomes young people who want to study, live and work in our community.
Our partner, planning NEXT, is an urban design firm that understands this property is a special place filled with memories and possibilities. As the firm’s co-founder Jamie Greene told the gathering, “We’re trying to find the sweet spot between high-order aspirations and what we can do together. This is really a community-minded vision.”
It’s not too late to participate. I invite you to visit fairgroundstofuture.org and offer your thoughts. We’ll hold more workshops in January to review the development framework before finalizing a long-range master plan in the spring.
Everyone’s voice matters as we imagine the possibilities, as we strengthen the bonds of community.No Comments
In the summer of 2011, Jessica Davis ’14 was in the middle of Africa on the back of a safari truck, sitting next to a rhinoceros she had just sedated. The transport could have been due to the animal needing to be dehorned to protect it from poachers. Maybe it was because another preserve requested more rhinos. Or maybe, the animal was just sick.
Regardless of the reason, Davis spent one month in Africa trying to protect African wildlife. At the time, she wanted to study wildlife medicine.
But, on her plane ride home, Davis realized she wanted to do more. She recognized the animals she wanted to protect were suffering because of social, environmental and political policies she had no control over.
“I realized I wanted to be the ultimate solution to the problem. I wanted to know why was the first domino even tipped? I don’t want to be these animals’ last line of defense, and that’s what I was in Africa. I want to be their first,” Davis said.
When she arrived back at home in Indianapolis, she knew sustainability was really the solution she was looking for. She went on to receive her master’s in biology from UD with a concentration in ecology.
“Sustainability is not my job. It is my ethos,” she said. “It permeates every decision I make.”
In 2015, Davis became the director of sustainability at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis where she teaches sustainability courses, handles operational sustainability and engages the campus and Indianapolis community.
Her interests include ecology, sustainability, environmental policy, and restoration of the human-nature relationship.
“The reason I am passionate about this is because I view sustainability as an intergenerational obligation. What we do today will have a big impact on those that come after us. If we do not change our trajectory now, future generations will be forced to bear the cost of today’s decision,” she said.
Some people spend their whole lives waiting for their dreams to happen. Others make it happen. Through his business, Broadway_Buzz, Bryan Campione ’05 builds social marketing platforms and provides event planning services for entertainers.
And he’s getting noticed.
In 2015 and 2016, he was recognized by IBM as part of the #GameChangersIBM platform for his work in social media on Broadway. A man of many talents, he also keeps busy producing new theatrical and musical initiatives.
The common theme in his work is one of art for the sake of expression and as an agent of change. In his words: “What I get to do … is take people outside their normal lives for an hour or two and invite them into a world that breaks their norm and reflect inward on whatever that may be.”
Speaking of reflection, Campione said among his greatest achievements have been building and directing Rock n’ Roll Debauchery, a theatrical rock experience that involves singers, dancers, aerialists, video graphics and more throughout the city. Performers come from Broadway, American Idol, Cirque Du Soleil, So You Think You Can Dance, TV, film and more.
Campione, who majored in French at UD, said the work stokes his creative fire. “This is what I love — collaborating and working on exciting projects like this with people from across the gamut of the arts world,” he said.
He said the backdrop of a vibrant big city keeps him energized. In his spare time, he enjoys dining out at the city’s diverse establishments, spending time outdoors and taking in live music. New York has a feel of its own, and Campione absorbs the constant excitement in both work and play.
“It allows working here to be an exciting adventure every day,” he said, “because just like on a Broadway stage, no two shows or
days are the same.”
A.J. Ferguson ’12 sees Dayton changing. It’s in the way college students are volunteering. It’s in the words of excitement he hears on the streets from other professionals.
“Even 10 years ago, people would tell UD students to not go past Brown Street,” Ferguson said. “But now, when I talk to students, they are aware that something cool is happening. I’m no longer hearing people say that Dayton is this scary, dying city.”
As the director of UpDayton, Ferguson says the positive shift in the perception of the city he calls home is indicative of volunteer efforts, investments and programs that are pouring into downtown revitalization projects.
The nonprofit began in 2008 and is part of those efforts by helping find ways to keep talented individuals in the area.
“Our goal is to inspire and empower Daytonians to create the community they want,” he said. “There’s far more depth and meaning to creating the community you want to live in rather than just moving to one that sounds cool.”
Ferguson got involved in the organization while still a UD student, when he attended the UpDayton Summit in 2012. From there, he volunteered to head an on-campus club GoDayton, which encouraged UD students to leave the “UD bubble” and explore the city.
And although Ferguson’s degree is in mechanical engineering, his full-time position merges his other passions while at UD: sustainability, River Stewards and Fitz Center for Leadership in Community.
“UD is creating the kind of leaders that our world needs right now,” he said. “No matter your career field, everyone can be involved in their community and be a voice for the common good. Because otherwise, other voices win out.”
If his years at UpDayton and UD have taught him anything, he says it is the power of the individual.
“I believe more than ever that our city needs you to show up,” he said. “I’ve seen it. Anyone can make a difference.”
Shauna Green, the second-year Dayton women’s basketball coach, likes to keep her family time separate from her job, but carving out windows for her husband and 3-year-old son isn’t easy with recruiting having intensified the last several years.
Home was once somewhat of a sanctuary for coaches; but they know there’s now a risk of falling behind in recruiting if they allow themselves to ever truly clock out.
“It never stops. It’s always been that way in this profession, but it’s definitely more so now,” Green said. “It used to be if you talked to people who had been in this a long time, they’d go to the office to work. But if I’m out to dinner with my family and a recruit calls, I take it. My family knows that’s just part of it.
“The other night, I had a million recruiting calls to make, and I’m out in my front yard, and my 3-year-old son wants to kick the soccer ball around. I’m running around and kicking the ball and talking to recruits with my phone in my hand. You look like a crazy person, but you learn how to multitask.”
The spike in social media has been going strong for a decade or more and shows no signs of ebbing, and the NCAA recently changed its rules to reflect advances in technology.
Women’s basketball coaches can contact a recruit through calls, text messages, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook beginning Sept. 1 of the recruit’s junior year — multiple times a day if they like. The only restriction is they can’t go on Twitter and send a tweet to a recruit, although direct messages, retweeting or “liking” something is fine.
“Having done this for 15 years, I can see the difference in the last few years — just with the whole text-messaging thing. That’s really changed the game,” said Green, who led the Flyers to their first sweep of the Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament titles last year.
“It’s nice for us as coaches because you don’t actually have to call them to get to know them, and they feel more comfortable texting than they do talking. That’s definitely a generational thing.
“I’ve had instances where you’d call a kid, and they don’t answer. But you text them, and they’ll text you right back. You go, OK, you have your phone right there because you just texted me. It makes you mad in a way, but you have to say, ‘That’s how these kids are. The way they communicate is so different.’”
Another motivation for the NCAA to ease its restrictions was to allow coaches and high school players to become more familiar with each other. And given the mounds of electronic exchanges, that’s undoubtedly happening.
If UD is interested in a prospect, the staff will follow the athlete on Twitter. If the recruit reciprocates, the Flyers know they’re in good shape.
Men’s basketball can contact players beginning June 15 after their sophomore years. And while the options seem almost endless, the UD coaches are trying to figure out what works best for them.
“What our staff still needs to get our head around is, do we want to retweet, do we want to ‘like’ this? The simple answer is ‘yes’ because we’re going to be engaged with that recruit. But at the same time, it’s a slippery slope,” said Andy Farrell, the director of scouting and program development for the Flyers.
“If you do it for one recruit, do you have to do it for all 100? ‘Dayton is retweeting so and so, why aren’t they retweeting me?’ We’ve got to be a lot more strategic with it. You see a lot of programs across the country retweeting and ‘liking’ everything, and it almost loses that touch if it’s mass-produced.”
Farrell has been on both sides of the recruiting onslaught. One of his stops before UD was at Southwest Mississippi Community College, and he learned much by seeing how his players were pursued.
“I could look at a recruit’s phone, and there would be four notifications. One’s an email, one’s a phone call, one’s a text message and one’s a social media alert. They’re looking at the social media alert first 90 percent of the time,” he said. “They’ll look at the text message next, then the missed call last.
“I’m just speaking from experience at the junior-college level. I’d say, ‘Hey, let me look at your phone real quick.’ He’d hand me his phone, and there’d be 14 unread text messages. You see the icon for 14. You go over to his social media, and there’s no red No. 1’s or red No. 4’s on those. Those were checked.
“You’ve got to utilize the different ways of communication — not saying you have to do one over the other, but I think the social-media messaging is going to be checked more frequently.”
Social media has allowed teams to get the message out about their programs quickly and effectively. UD women’s soccer assistant coach Dean Ward has found short videos — usually of Flyers scoring goals — get favorable responses.
“Nowadays, with this generation, video clips of five to 30 seconds catch their attention before they move on to the next thing,” he said. “The days are gone where you sit down and watch a video for 20 or 30 minutes. It’s all short and instant gratification and instant images.
“That’s why Instagram and Snapchat are probably the most prominent platforms right now in social media — for the kids of the age we’re trying to recruit. Things like Facebook have become an older generation type of thing.”
Asked if most high school athletes have Instagram accounts, Ward replied, “I have not met many who don’t.”
Posting game footage doesn’t seem like a chore to Ward, who was an assistant at the University of Tennessee the previous five years, because he said he’d be on his smartphone anyway.
“When I’m at home on the sofa for five or 10 minutes, I’ll kind of flip through and go to Instagram and Twitter and ‘like’ certain things from kids we’re recruiting,” he said. “After seeing kids play, I’ll try to find them on social media and follow them.
“It’s one of the things you tick off on the list — not sit down and spend two or three hours a week on social media stuff. It just kind of happens a minute here and a minute there.”
For some UD coaches, the best method for reaching recruits is still the old-fashioned way.
“For me, I don’t think it’s changed a lot,” said first-year baseball coach Jayson King, who was the recruiting coordinator at the U.S. Military Academy last year and a successful Division-II coach for 20 years before that. “I think it’s something that can help you. It’s more of a branding type of thing where people can see what you have going on and can get a glimpse inside of what you’re doing.
“But in general, it’s your standard, ‘See players, call them, get them on campus and show them what’s there and describe what the opportunity is.’”
First-year men’s basketball coach Anthony Grant, like King, doesn’t have a personal Twitter account. Predecessor Archie Miller also was resistant to becoming part of that realm.
But the team has one (@DaytonMBB), and Grant sees some value in that.
“It gives your fans and the public in general a view into your program and the things you do on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. It gets your story out there,” he said.
One of the concerns about loosening the rules on electronic communication was that kids would be inundated with contact from coaches. But at least one UD athlete didn’t find it to be taxing.
Kendall Pollard, a senior basketball star for the Flyers last season, played for Chicago Simeon High School when texting restrictions were lifted and was encouraged by the attention he received.
“As a player, you’d like to know who’s interested in you directly. Right before that, they would send letters to the school or call my high school coach, and he would never tell me,” Pollard said.
“When coaches were allowed to [text], I was like, OK, I’m getting interest from this school and this school. When I started receiving messages on Facebook and stuff, that gave me an extra boost. I was able to see who was interested in me, and it made me go out there and play even harder.”No Comments
Whether we work in highly specialized fields like medicine or technology or happen to be making a health care speech on Capitol Hill, our messages must be delivered in a way most can understand.
All UD students regardless of major spend a semester learning that skill in Principles of Oral Communication, a Common Academic Program course that teaches the foundations of making information clear to particular audiences and promoting civil discourse in the process.
Coordinated by communication lecturer Jason Combs, the course incorporates input from professors across academic units whose disciplines have their own communication challenges. The textbook created especially for the course teaches students to start with the big picture. And then, they’re off:
Know your topic
The communicator must have a strong grasp of the topic’s concrete principles. With that level of understanding, he or she can then determine the best ways to connect with the audience. Sharing a story to illustrate the idea is often helpful.
Decide what’s most important, and present only that information. It’s better to pick a smaller amount of information and have the audience
retain all of it than to present a larger amount with minimal retention.
This helps facilitate understanding and generate ethical dialogue.
“The goal is understanding, not debate,” said Joe Valenzano III, chair of the Department of Communication. “The goal is not to change another person’s position, but to get a better understanding of why people think the way they do.”
Know your audience
“This class taught me to increase my awareness of what I communicate,” said senior Kayla McLaughlin, a student in the School of Business Administration who added communication as a minor after taking the class. “I focus on how to say something in front of different people so they’re receiving exactly what I want them to know.”
Among a dozen sleeping bodies, I awake to cold and rain. Peter, our leader, will soon say, “Let’s get some breakfast going and row to shore for the marathon run.”
Tea, granola and honey on a 20-foot open boat will be followed by a 7-mile run on a rocky trail around our island base camp. We are nearing the end of a monthlong sailing experience in 1975 at Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Maine.
A young teacher on my high school staff told me about Outward Bound schools and their theories about learning from the experience of overcoming obstacles in natural settings such as sailing and backpacking.
At age 42, I had a doctorate and a career as the principal of a 2,000-boy high school. But now I was in a competitive situation full of 20-somethings. Many were experienced sailors; I did not know the difference between port and starboard.
I was learning — about adjusting to wind and weather and 20-somethings and about encountering myself.
Water — fog, rain and waves — was the constant that month. We daily moved from one island to another, sometimes sleeping on the boat. It was never hard to fall asleep.
Outward Bound was about learning from experience. There were no books or lectures. The instructor said as little as possible. The experience took place in a group setting because the theory is that the truth is in the group, in the community — and all are responsible for finding it.
Years later, while biking, I stopped at a meadow to admire a mare and a colt. I noticed that, although the mare followed the colt everywhere, she just let it wander around finding its own path except when it ventured near to me. Then the mare chased it off in another direction away from the danger of my presence.
I tried to convince students that this was a symbol of my teaching style; I am afraid they did not understand my method. When I would later ask them about my style of teaching, all they could say was it had something to do with a horse.
My Outward Bound experience convinced me that the greatest service a teacher can do for students is to let them find their own paths in their own ways, to intervene only when their wandering in one direction is not working.3 Comments